Norv Turner was hired as Mike Zimmer’s first offensive coordinator with the Vikings in large part because the first-time head coach wanted to focus his energies on defense and sought a veteran play-caller who had an idea of exactly what he wanted when it came to the offensive system he would be run.
It quickly became clear that this wasn’t entirely a good thing.
Turner knew exactly what he wanted, but didn’t seem to be all that flexible toward making adjustments to highlight the talent of the personnel he was given. In 2015, Turner seemed intent on focusing his scheme around running back Adrian Peterson, despite the fact the priority should have been to feature young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
When Turner walked away after seven games in 2016, the offensive coordinator duties were turned over to Pat Shurmur. Shurmur served in this role for the final nine games of that season and then was the play-caller for the Vikings’ 14-4 run in 2017.
The thing that immediately became clear with Shurmur – and one of the things that helped him get the New York Giants’ head coaching job – was his willingness to adapt to what his players did well. This wasn’t going to be his show with a bunch of guys who were going to fit his system or not see playing time.
Shurmur spent last offseason designing an offense that played to the strengths of quarterback Sam Bradford. But when Bradford was basically lost for the season after the first game because of a knee injury, Shurmur was able to adjust his offense to what backup Case Keenum did well.
Zimmer always has believed in coaching to his players’ strengths on the defensive side of the ball and now he had found someone with a similar thought process when it came to offense. That’s why Zimmer took his time in picking Shurmur’s replacement.
The Vikings landed on John DeFilippo. The Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach for the past two seasons, the 39-year-old DeFilippo was introduced to the Twin Cities media via a conference call on Friday. This came less than a week after the Eagles upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium, doing so with backup quarterback Nick Foles earning MVP honors for the game. Foles took over late in the season after MVP-candidate Carson Wentz was lost to a knee injury.
DeFilippo was asked if there was one particular thing he shared with Foles before the playoffs that paid off with victories over the Falcons, Vikings and Patriots. His response sounded very similar to something Shurmur might have said.
“I sat him down and made him list me, with our coaching staff, what are your best concepts, what do you see yourself do well?” DeFilippo said. “Because I’m not, myself, (Eagles offensive coordinator) Frank Reich, (head coach) Doug Pederson are not throwing the ball. He is.
“And so, we really sat down and spent some time with Nick and formulated game plans based on what he felt comfortable doing. And to me that’s coaching. Why would you ask your player to do something that he’s not comfortable with? Nick was open and honest about things he wasn’t comfortable with and things that he was comfortable with.”
This response had to bring a smile to Zimmer’s face.
This won’t be DeFilippo’s first stint as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. He held the job with the 2015 Cleveland Browns, who finished 3-13. Head coach Mike Pettine and his staff, including DeFilippo, were fired after the season.
The Browns used three starting quarterbacks, including Josh McCown (eight starts), Johnny Manziel (six starts) and Austin Davis (two starts), but still managed to get 4,155 passing yards from the trio, the fourth-most in franchise history. It also marked the fourth team in team history that Cleveland threw for 4,000 yards and rushed for 1,500 yards in the same season.
DeFilippo will be hoping the Vikings can settle on one quarterback for 2018, whether that be bringing back free-agents-to-be Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater or going outside the organization to find a replacement. (The guess here is there will be no attempt to re-sign free-agent Sam Bradford.)
DeFilippo will play a role in picking the Vikings’ starting quarterback and then making sure his scheme and play-calling best fits the strengths of that QB. This would seem like a no-brainer, only we have seen offensive coaches who have mandated that the players make the adjustments instead of vice versa.
Shurmur showed us what applying logic to the situation can do for a quarterback and his offense.
The expectation is that DeFilippo will do the same.